Solitude: so hard in Digital Age?

Social Communicative Aspects of ICT

What impressed me most in this week’s reading is Sherry Turkle’s TED talk “Connected, but alone?” The talk criticized our heavy reliance on technology, discussed the harm of not having the capacity for solitude and appealed to us to focus on real F2F conversation and more time on reflection.

Turkle said,”constant connection is changing the way people think of themselves. It’s shaping a new way of being. The best way to describe it is, I share therefore I am. …So before it was: I have a feeling, I want to make a call. Now it’s: I want to have a feeling, I need to send a text….So what do we do? We connect more and more. But in the process, we set ourselves up to be isolated. How do you get from connection to isolation? You end up isolated if you don’t cultivate the capacity for solitude, the ability to be separate, to gather yourself….When we don’t have the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people in order to feel less anxious or in order to feel alive. When this happens, we’re not able to appreciate who they are. It’s as though we’re using them as spare parts to support our fragile sense of self. We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us feel less alone.”

I totally agree with her. Solitude is something we normally tend to avoid, but  a look back at the history of literature reminds me that most authors, scholars and poets have the ability to appreciate the beauty of solitude and enjoy solitude. Through solitude they reflect themselves, have a deep look at their true selves and think about the ultimate philosophical questions. Through solitude they are greeted by their true selves in the dark, which most people, cannot stand for a minute, and immediately take out their phones.

A famous quote in Confucian Analects goes as:

The philosopher Tsang said, “I daily examine myself on three points:– whether, in transacting business for others, I may have been not faithful;– whether, in intercourse with friends, I may have been not sincere;– whether I may have not mastered and practiced the instructions of my teacher.”

The French writer Montaigne also wrote in his famous essay On Solitude:

We must take the soul back and withdraw it into itself; that is the real solitude, which may be enjoyed in the midst of cities and the courts of kings;but it is best enjoyed alone.

In the Digital Age, people are constantly connected, sometimes because we are afraid of boredom and loneliness, sometimes because we have to keep pace. We are expected to reply to an instant message instantly, to frequently check emails and reply them ASAP… Otherwise we are considered not abiding by the social norms. All the rapid pace of communication leaves us less time for solitude.

However, as the speech pointed out, people are deliberately getting used to constantly being connected to get “control” of their lives. We are growing less patient and less willing to meet our true selves in the dark. But this is dangerous, as Turkle said, “we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” The companionship we have for now is an illusion. Although friendship and love may hurt us, even badly, we still have to experience it and live our lives. After all, this is life.

Finally, I would like to end the article with a new TV drama called “Selfie” (Watch it here). One scene left me thinking: When the heroine, the “Instafamous” Eliza who has 263,000 followers, had throwed up badly and wanted her virtual friends to send her a ginger tea, no one really empathized and cared.

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